How Well Do You Train Your Mind? Are You Running From Anxiety Or Toward It?

Gone are the days where I turn up to a race completely carefree with zero expectations on the end result.

My first years of running races were run watch free, without any concept on what 'five-minute pace' would equate to at the end. I would simply lace up and run. Some people can always race like this, but the more I got involved in the sport, the more my inner competitive drive emerged and I wanted to challenge myself to test my fitness boundaries. I can’t help it, but it can detract from the complete freedom I once felt when I ran and lead to unnecessary anxiety.

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The truth is, when you are running “well” (under your self-prescribed definition of the word) you are happy to set a pace because you trust in your ability to hit it. The more frequently you achieve your goals the higher your confidence soars, and what emerges is this harmonious mix of competitive grit and determination with happy, relaxed running. The problem is…

…no-one always feels as though they are running well.

I haven’t felt I have been running well (under my own scrutinisingly standards) for over two years. I have trained hard over this period and completed many sound blocks of consistent sessions but, more often than not, racing has felt rubbish. I allowed myself to get swamped by my own expectations and lost the ability to just enjoy running for running’s sake. Consequently, most times I turned up to a race my head would be full of negative self-degrading thoughts that had been festering for weeks leading up to the race itself.

How can anyone possibly run to their potential when they’ve already told themselves that it’s going to be a “bad result” and that “you’re too fat”, “too slow” and “too old.”

Of course, the end result would always be short of what I had hoped for due to all the self-inflicted pressure and negative thinking, and I would walk away telling myself that it’s because of all those previous ‘facts’ my brain had listed. What an anxiety-fuelled downward cycle this creates. You just end up succumbing to the power of these thoughts.
 

All this proves is how powerful the mind is and that training the mind is JUST as, if not more, important to train as our muscles.

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I know this to be true, but putting it into practise over the past couple of years has been very inconsistent. I have been lazy in training my mind. I don’t like admitting this. I am ashamed to say it as it’s the complete opposite to what I preach to my daughter, to those I coach, to friends and it drives my husband bonkers! He is a master at training both his body and mind and can see how much my thought processes hold me back from achieving my goals and aiming higher. Not just in running, but in life in general.

The thing is I truly believe what I am saying when encouraging and motivating others to believe in themselves and, at times I can implement this positive thinking in myself too, however every time I have fallen short of my goals over the past couple of years I tell myself it’s different for me because I am…insert negative comment here!

There are a few key reasons why this negative self-talk emerged its ugly head in recent years and began to dictate my ability to run happy and free. However, after Gold Coast half marathon, I decided that it was time to get over myself and stop the nonsense – it was time to re-train my mind to be strong and resilient so I can enjoy both training for a race, and the race day itself.

I used to LOVE racing - the buzz and atmosphere around the event itself would be so exhilarating, so, rather than take a racing hiatus, I decided that my focus needed to shift to training with a twist of fun and excited anticipation toward race day.

This year, Melbourne marathon was going to be the race that pulled me out of my stupor.

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Melbourne marathon is my absolute FAVOURITE marathon. As of the other day, I have now completed 6 in a row and without fail, it has always been the running highlight in my year. I love the city, the course, the spectators, the MCG finish, the weather (most years), and running away from home.

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I decided that I was going to get my coach to give me a plan to stick to and to hold myself accountable with an Instagram diary. A diary that would list the week number and count down the days - all the way to race day. It began with, ‘Week 13, Day 1 @melbmara’ followed by a session description and photo relating to the session/day.

My motivation for doing this was:

-       To keep it real and relatable to my followers.

-       To keep me accountable. I knew people would know if I had skimped on a session and my pride didn’t want to have to explain this!

-       To motivate not just myself to train, but other runners also.

-       To make it fun. To find a positive in every session and focus on this, rather than the end result.

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The last reason was the strongest. It’s amazing how, if you force yourself to look for the good in things, then it starts to come naturally, and that’s exactly what happened to me by keeping this pictorial training diary. Don’t get me wrong, I had tough days. I shed some tears when self-doubt reared its’ unwanted head, but for the most part, I really enjoyed the training and constant visual reminders on how lucky I am to be able to run and be a part of such a wonderful community – life is so much richer for it! I also made sure I didn’t do all my training solo and had my wonderful training partner share in many of my sessions with me. We laughed as much as we ran.

Training was interrupted on two separate and very important occasions - our wedding and four weeks later, our honeymoon – however, I did my best not to drop sessions and keep focused, whilst having fun celebrating and trying to find meaning in that infamous word, “balance”.

Tapering is never an easy time mentally – it’s when we second guess everything, and during the final training weeks I was desperately trying to shake away the old taunting 'facts' as to why things wouldn’t go well come race day. I had to keep reminding myself that no-one else really cared about the end result and that, as my coach said, “you’ve done the hard work. Now it’s time to relax and enjoy the rewards.”

A complete transformation in headspace was never going to be realistic in a 13-week window, however the Instagram diary and some tough love from both myself and those closest to me, did eventuate in a far more enjoyable training block, and I have to say, I was relatively calm by the time I eventually got to the start line. My mantra was to,

- run strong, yet relaxed -

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It turns out a more positive mindset, coupled with solid training that has a sense of fun sprinkled through it, really can work. This year, Melbourne did deliver me a PB at long last, but more importantly, it revived my love for racing. The crowds, the running friends and community, and the sense of freedom that running used to always bring for me, came flooding back.

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What did I take away?

I wasn’t sure if my training would pay off (anything can happen in a marathon!), but I was sure that no matter what the end result, it was time to just get back to running for the love of it and to use this training experience as a lesson and reminder that we don’t just run for one race day or time, we run for:

  • The sharing in experiences and stories
  • The community it creates
  • The emotional release
  • The health benefits
  • Friendship
  • Developing our self-belief and confidence
  • To be positive role models

 WE DON’T RUN TO BE ANXIOUS!

I now look forward to my next run today, tomorrow and the next day, without always focusing on a race and, without the need to keep a training diary. For why should we always train for a race?!

Perhaps it may help to occasionally drop the word “training” from our vocabulary so it stops sounding like a domestic chore, and replace it with, “I am off for my happy endorphin release?!”, because after all, isn’t that the best reason to go for a run?!